OK. If I have not already staked a claim on your garden by asking gardeners to grow sugar beets this year(see Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project), I have yet another request for your garden space. That request is to Grow of a row (of flowers) for the Bees. Some may know about Colony Collapse. This is when worker bees from a bee hive disappear. This has been happening at an alarming rate for many years, and has had a negative effect on honey bee populations worldwide. There is still no definitive cause, but of the factors suggested was a decline in basic bee nutrition.
Basically, a healthier bee has a better immune system to fight off disease, and that health comes from a mixed diet of flowers. The decline of basic bee nutrition can be caused by the loss of habitat from development, and the wide spread increase of nonflowering mono crops like corn, wheat, and even the suburban grass lawn. Bees, like humans require a varied diet, which is usually not a problem in the naturally ecologically diverse environment like a wild flower meadow.
So what do bees eat, and how can we help?:
Bees eat nectar, which is the liquid sugary substance found in flowers. So in order to feed the bees we need more flowers. And because we human also love flowers, I see growing some extra as a win, win.
Why should we care about the humble honey bee?:
For starters they make honey, but their main job is to pollinate. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of a plant. It is basically plant sexual reproduction, and it requires in many cases a pollinating insect like a bee to make reproduction possible. The result of this reproduction is fruit. And the bees do there job well. I remember when I worked on an organic farm for a season. The bees would be so caked with orange pollen dust from pollinating squash flowers in the squash patch that they looked like flying cheese puffs.
The loss of pollinating insect means a loss of fruiting plant crop yields. If there was no pollinators, there will be no crop at all, and that would mean a massive loss in world food supply for humans, and animals alike.
The loss of pollinators would mean that we humans would have to hand pollinate each plant one at a time with a q-tip, a next to impossible task.
Without pollinators, we will be reduced to a diet of grains, fish, a handful of other plants that open pollinate, or reproduce with asexually reproduction, and grass fed animals. Say good by to most of the foods we love, and need to survive.
So how can we help the bees/pollinators?:
Grow a row of flowers in your garden for the bees. If you do not have space to grow flowers, you can always let a section of your lawn go wild. Native wild flowers will eventually seed the place you do not mow, and those flowers will feed the bees.
I would go as far as to say that we should give up our lawns entirely, and say farewell to the lawn care chemical industry, and gas powered mowers altogether. Just think of all of the bees we can feed with a naturalized wildflower meadow instead of a lawn we rarely use? Insert naive optimism, a vision of a wild flower meadow with a rainbow over head, and soothing music in the background.(chuckles)
I do not see every suburban home owner, municipality, or institutional campus giving up their lawn mover anytime soon, so we bee loving gardeners will have to do our part.
What flowers are best to grow for our friends, the honeybee?:
Listed below are seed companies that sell a honey bee flower mix. I have used the Territorial Seed mix with good result.
American Meadow , Midwest Seed Mix